More and more people are opting out of the urban lifestyle, and those that make the move to the Highlands for a better quality of life are rarely disappointed. The rugged mountains form the largest upland area in Britain, and the glens, scree slopes, lochs and wide expanses of moorland make up a varied and spectacular landscape.

The Highlands are the northernmost area of mainland Scotland, from Fort William in the southwest, to Thurso and Wick in the northeastern corner. Inverness is the Highlands’ principal settlement and is also the main transport hub for the rest of the region.

To the west are the islands of Mull and the Hebrides. Skye and Lewis are the best-known islands, and regular ferry crossings connect them to the mainland and each other.

To the east, the landscape is gentler and less mountainous. Off the north coast are the Orkney and Shetlands, which are almost treeless, and where the climate can be harsh. Hot summers are rare, and the temperatures are frequently the lowest in Britain.

PROPERTY IN THE HIGHLANDS

The Highlands are the perfect choice for property buyers with a passion for outdoor pursuits seeking a better quality of life. ‘The Highlands are a place where people want to live, rather than they need to live,’ says Jamie Macnab from Savills, ‘the area attracts lots of second home and lifestyle buyers.’

During the recent property boom in Scotland demand for the rural idyll that many parts of the Highlands represent has reached an all-time high. ‘Areas within an hour’s distance from an airport are most popular,’ says Mr Macnab. Michael Jones from Knight Frank agrees: ‘Prices are steadily rising,’ he said, ‘Inverness is having a boom time; investment in business is having a knock-on effect on the property market.

Inverness has been, for some years, Europe’s fastest growing city, with a flood of people moving to the area from throughout the UK seeking a better quality of life. As well as being accessible thanks to the airport (see ‘transport’ below), Inverness-shire boasts wide and beautiful open spaces, and good broadband connectivity. As a result prices have almost doubled in the last three years, but again, prices are still reasonable compared with the south. According to John Bound at CKD Galbraith, a good 4-bedroom manse (vicarage) with an acre or two of land will cost around £400,000. Larger country estates rarely come onto the market, however, when they do, expect a price tag of between £600,00 – £1 million. The most sought after areas are those outside of Inverness city centre, but within a twenty-mile radius, such as Black Isle to the North, Strathnairn to the south, Beauly to the west, and Tomatin to the southeast.

Oban is one of the most popular towns in the Highlands, situated on the western coast. According to Mr Jones, the scenic qualities of the Western Highlands will always attract potential buyers. These days demand is far outstripping supply in Oban, a town with a population of just 8,500. Many come seeking the perfect waterfront cottage and leave disappointed. However, prices are still good compared to the south, and when they do come onto the market, 4-bedroom waterfront properties sell for around the £500,000 mark. Oban is not well connected, so commuting to larger towns, such as Glasgow to the south, will be difficult.

Sporting estates are a smaller but more valuable market, attracting international buyers. ‘Few come on the market and few are sold each year,’ said Mr Macnab, ‘But when they do they sell for a high price.’

Savills predicts that prices in the Highlands will rise by 6.5% over the next year. ‘We generally follow London a year later and get half what it gets,’ Mr Macnab explained, ‘if there’s a splash in London, there is a ripple up here.’

DUICH HOUSE, GLENSHIEL, ROSS-SHIRE

A former manse in spectacular lochside situation. Duich House was built c.1833 as a replacement for a previous manse, which was believed to be destroyed by fire, and displays many fine architectural features typical of this late Georgian period. It is an elegant family home which stands in about 2 acres of mature gardens including shrubs and some fine specimen trees. Knight Frank are inviting offers in excess £650,000 +44(0) 0131 222 9600.

prime property for saleBRAGLEENBEG ESTATE, SCAMMADALE, ARGYLL

An extremely attractive amenity estate with loch frontage and a river peacefully situated within Scammadale Glen. Bragleenbeg Estate extends to about 1092 acres and encircles Bragleenbeg farmhouse providing considerable amenity and privacy. The Estate is made up predominantly of hill grazings with a small amount (about 24 acres) of good quality silage ground leading down to Loch Scammadale. The house has been well maintained externally but although perfectly habitable now requires upgrading inside. In addition there is a wonderful opportunity to create a new garden to the front of the house with views towards Loch Scammadale. Knight Frank are inviting offers in excess £800,000 000 +44(0) 0131 222 9600.

prime property for saleGLENMARKIE LODGE, GLENISLA, PERTHSHIRE

Glenmarkie is a small glen leading off Glenisla, in the north-west of the county, close to the border between Angus and Perthshire. Formerly a Victorian shooting lodge, the house has been restored for 21st century living with indoor pool, tennis court, stable block and games room. There are 163 acres including a lochan and two ponds stocked with trout. Savills invite offers over £1,250,000 +44 (0)1356 628628.

prime property for saleSHANDWICK HOUSE, CROMARTHY FIRTH

Shandwick House is an imposing country house, occupying a magnificent parkland setting overlooking the Cromarty Firth. The house was built in 1936 by Reid of Shandwick, using stone from an earlier principal house, dating from the 1700’s. The remains of the original house remain, and are now B Listed, and it is thought the site was changed to take advantage of the wonderful views towards the Black Isle. The house is ideal for entertaining and there are many original features. Magnificent gardens, parkland and amenity woodland, in all about 140 acres, create a superb private setting for the property. Savills are inviting offers in excess £950,000 +44 (0) 131 247 3714

prime property for saleACTIVITIES

The magnificent scenery of the north and west of Scotland attracts many admirers, and for outdoor sports the Highlands are unrivalled. World-class shooting, stalking, fishing and climbing are all easily accessible. Walking can be enjoyed not only in the hills and mountains but also in the forests and along the coasts. Winter sports are an option, with skiing facilities in Glencoe, Nevis Range (Aonach Mor) and Cairngorm. With its cliffs and inlets, the coastline is spectacular, and the waters are excellent sailing territory for experienced yachtsmen.

There are also over 40 superb but often difficult golf courses dotted throughout the Highlands, some created by famous designers such as Tom Morris, James Braid and Donald Ross. The region’s better known courses include Kingussie, Newtonmore, Nairn, Dornoch, Boat of Garten and Helmsdale.

CULTURE AND HERITAGE

Highland culture and heritage are quite distinct from the rest of Scotland. The Gaelic language is still spoken in some areas, and the Highland Games showcase the region’s more traditional sports and activities, from caber tossing to piping and drumming. The Highlands are also well known for local delicacies, such as smoked salmon, cheese and haggis, as well as excellent malt whiskies from the distilleries of Oban, Skye, Ben Nevis and Talisker.

TRANSPORT

For anyone outside of the Highlands considering buying a property there, the remoteness of the region cannot be underestimated. A train journey to London from Inverness will take approximately eight hours, and from Fort William will take around ten hours. However, while there are no motorways north of Dundee, the air links to Inverness are excellent: there are regular flights throughout the day to London Gatwick and Heathrow, as well as various international destinations, from Inverness airport, which is situated nine miles east of Inverness city centre. Glasgow is approximately 95 miles south of Oban in the West Highlands, and Aberdeen is about 103 miles east of Inverness.

INFORMATION

Major towns

Inverness, Fort William, Thurso, Wick, Aberdeen, Ullapool, Oban; Lerwick (Shetland), Kirkwall (Orkney), Stornoway (Lewis).

Transport links

Train: King’s Cross to Fort William 10hr 3min (change Edinburgh and Glasgow); King’s Cross to Inverness 8hr 10min; King’s Cross to Thurso 12hr 27min (change Edinburgh and Inverness).Car: Fort William is 497 miles from London, via the M1, M6, A74, M74 and A82;Inverness, 536 miles and Thurso 645 miles, via the M1, M6, A74, M74, M90 and A9.

Public schools

Gordonstoun School, Elgin (01343 837837). Co-educational, age range 13-18, day and boarding.Oban High School(01631 564231). Co-educational, age range 11-18, day.Albyn School for Girls, Aberdeen (01224 322408). Girls only, age range 3-18, day.Robert Gordon’s College, Aberdeen (01224 646346). Co-educational, age range 5-18, day and boarding.Leisure

Golfcourses

Kingussie (01540 661600), Newtonmore (01540 673328).Yachting club: Royal Findhorn Yacht Club.Fishing: rivers Spey, Dee, Don, Findhorn, Helmsdale and Awe.To top> >